By Ben Robinson
JUNE 4, 2018 - COVINGTON
When you cover high school athletes throughout their careers, it's very easy to become emotionally invested as they pursue their dreams - especially when you see what many of these kids put themselves through both physically and mentally trying to succeed.
I've been very fortunate over the past two decades to cover hundreds of Covington student/athletes and what I've witnessed in this time never ceases to amaze me in regards to just how TOUGH and DETERMINED many of these kids are.
And boy, there have been some tough kids over the years.
I've seen A.J. Ouellette suffer a shoulder injury on a running play as a sophomore - an injury that appeared to be a stinger at the time - only to run over an opposing defender two plays later into the end zone. Later it was learned he had a broken collar bone. After surgery and rehab, Ouellette then broke every rushing record imaginable at Covington and went on to a successful collegiate career at Ohio University.
I've seen Chloe Shell dive for a ball her senior year of softball against Versailles and injure her throwing wrist - and then pitch the rest of the season to lead the Lady Buccs all the way to the state final four. It was later learned that Shell had a broken bone in her throwing wrist. Shell then went on to a great career as a pitcher for Bluffton University.
I watched Travis Wamer severely dislocate his hip during a football game and do all he could to rehab the injury in an attempt to play football again. Unfortunately Wamer was never able to play again, but the rehab he put himself through led to him accomplishing his dream of becoming a United States Marine.
I've witnessed my own daughter, Shae Robinson, have a 1200-pound horse fall on her - severely bruising her hip and back and breaking her ankle to where screws were surgically inserted to hold it together. I watched her go through an entire year of rehab and another year of intense training just to be able to run track her senior year.
Those are just four examples of unbelievable toughness and determination from Buccaneer student/athletes I've witnessed over the years and there are many, many more I could list.
But out of everything I've seen of any kid in a Buccaneer uniform, what Jett Murphy was able to overcome to win a state championship in the pole vault blows my mind like no other.
The headlines in every local paper focus on the result of Jett winning a state championship, but what he had to go through is something much more impressive than standing on top of the podium at a state meet.
Going back to when Jett was younger - way back to elementary school - it was so obvious as to how athletic he was from his experience in gymnastics. Jett was noted for thrilling anyone who asked with unbelievable flips and twists through the air.
As he grew into junior high he picked up pole vaulting and it was apparent from the outset that he was a natural thanks to his uncanny ability to control his body once it was several feet off the ground. He thrilled groups of spectators at junior high meets as expectations for high school success started to formulate in the minds of those who gathered to watch him vault.
But Jett was more than a vaulter - he was a three-sport athlete also participating in football and basketball as he entered high school as a freshman.
And that's when the first dose of adversity struck Jett like a bolt of lightening as he tore his ACL during his freshman season of football. It forced him to miss his basketball and track seasons as he pretty much lost his entire freshman year of athletics.
For many 14 to 15 year-old kids, losing an entire year of sports would be devastating and most would quit all together. But as tough as it had to be on Jett, imagine how difficult it had to be for his parents Barry and LeAnne to watch their son go through a serious injury at such a young age.
Still, thanks to his support system, Jett rehabbed his injury and returned to the track for his sophomore year where he broke Jon Sampson's school pole vault record of 14-feet with a vault of 14-4 to finish fourth at the state meet.
Murphy then put together an outstanding basketball season as a junior and followed with a third place finish at state in the pole vault where he extended his school record to 14-10.
Two years removed from his major knee surgery, the sky was the limit (literally) for Jett's senior season as he went back to work training for what he hoped would be a state championship.
But, once again, lightening struck for the second time as Jett tore his ACL in the other knee a week before basketball season. At the time - with track season just a little over four months away - it appeared as if Jett's dream of a state title went away with the first incision his surgeon made to repair his damaged knee.
Yes, Jett had to obviously be devastated, but the silver lining for him was that he had already committed to continuing his education and vaulting at Youngstown State University.
But, once again, imagine the toll it had to take on his parents, Barry and LeAnne. For parents to witness their child work so darn hard for a dream - only to have it apparently dashed with a stroke of bad luck - AGAIN. That had to be very tough to deal with.
Jett had his surgery over the winter, but still showed the type of team player he is by cheering on his buddies from the bench during every basketball game while he rehabbed his injury behind the scenes.
Amazingly, Jett somehow managed to walk - then jog - then run - all by the time basketball season ended in March.
Suddenly, hope started to materialize as track season began that maybe, just maybe Jett could get back on the track to vault again his senior season.
As the season progressed, Jett vaulted, then vaulted again and again. By the time of the Covington Invitational he was closer to becoming the type of vaulter he was when he walked off the track at state as a junior.
But, once again, Jett was hit with even more adversity as he tweaked his knee while running a relay prior to the league meet. Fortunately it wasn't his ACL this time around, but a torn meniscus.
This gave Jett a shot to continue chasing his dream - IF he could take the pain.
And Jett proved to be tough once again as he finished second at districts with a vault of 13-10 and then won a regional title with a vault of 14-8 as he was in the process of breaking in a new pole.
Then, at state this past weekend, Jett accomplished the unbelievable as he cleared 15-feet to win the state title he dreamed of - a dream that started five years earlier when he picked up a pole for the first time.
Surely, as those who don't know Jett watched him, they probably casually admired his state championship accomplishment. But they probably didn't give it a thought as to what he went through to get there - likely because they didn't know.
Actually, many of the competitors he defeated at state didn't know until they overheard Jett explaining it to a reporter afterwards in an interview. One of the other vaulters asked Jett about it as they walked toward the medal stand.
Obviously Jett communicated some of the details as the kid told a host of his own supporters about it when they greeted him at the south-east end of the track.
"That kid won state after tearing the ACL in both of his knees," the young man told his supporters who appeared to be his parents and close friends.
Shaking his head in disbelief he then said, "He's a beast".